Ricardo Zunino

Ricardo Zunino

13/4/1949

Cordial and charming Brazilian-resident Argentine driver who replaced Niki Lauda in the Brabham team on the Austrian's sudden retirement midway through practice for the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix.

He began his career in 1969 driving sports prototypes, and spent the 1970s mainly competing in national touring championships in a Fiat. In 1974-75 he campaigned an almost-standard Fiat 125 in a category that combined both road racing and rallysport-style stages. But with sponsorship from the Automobile Club of Argentina, and being managed by Hector Staffa, formerly Reutemann's manager, Zunino headed to Europe in 1977 and went into F2. Initially driving a March 772 Hart for the Euroracing team, he came 9th at Thruxton but otherwise made little impression before switching to the works March team, driving a 772 with a BMW engine. Apart from being classified 6th at Pau, where he was one of those who crashed in the rain forcing the race to be stopped, he generally found it difficult to acclimatise.

In the middle of 1979, Zunino managed to get a F1 drive, albeit only in Aurora F1. Joining the series driving a McLaren/Cosworth M23. Later in the year, a week before the last round of the Aurora series, he returned across the Atlantic and was in Montreal for the Canadian GP as a spectator.

It was there that Niki Lauda announced during free practice that he was tired of "driving in circles", and proptly retired. Ecclestone suddenly needed a replacement. The story goes that he sent someone to make an announcement on the PA system asking if anyone in the crowd could drive an F1 car. Eventually Zunino showed his face and was given the drive.

Whether Zunino volunteered himself or Ecclestone already knew he was at the track is subject to much speculation. The fact that Zunino had tested for Brabham and was on hand to make his debut seems aa bit of a fluke. Apparently Bernie was keen to increase Argentine interest in F1, and Zunino was one way of doing that.

He drove for Brabham in 1979 continuing with the team until the middle of the following year when he was replaced by Hector Rebaque.

He drove for Tyrrell in the 1981 Brazilian and Argentine Grands Prix before giving way to Michele Alboreto.

He now runs a tourism centre and hotel complex in his native San Juan, at the foot of the Andes.

Although he still enjoys following Grand Prix racing, he has little active involvement in motorsport. He did make an appearance in Buenos Aires when Formula One briefly returned to Argentina in the mid-1990s, and from time to time he participates in the Mil Millas, a road rally for historic cars, a sort of Argentine version of the famous Mille Miglia.

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